07 October 2018

Uncomfortable Truths about Marriage

NB. This is a revision of a 2015 homily. . .

27th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Uncomfortable truths do not go away simply b/c we harden our hearts against them. Reality does not yield to argument or whining. Truth is truth; the Real is real, and we are thrown into both and forced to deal with each as best we can. However, better than most, we Catholics are equipped to confront and thrive in the truth of the real b/c we know and believe that God our Father is Love. He created us in love; redeemed us in love; and He brings us back to Him in love. Our daily reality – given and unavoidable – is soaked through with the abiding presence of Love Himself. Also given and unavoidable. God's presence does not guarantee us that we will never come to harm, or that all of our works will prosper, or that we will always be happy. What His presence does guarantee is everything we do and say is given the weight of eternity when we work and speak in His name for His glory. With our hearts and minds firmly focused on our lives in Christ, we are free to do the holy work we have been given to do. Reality does not yield to argument or whining. Nor does it change b/c we call it something else or b/c secular laws demand that it change. “God made [man] male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” A union of one flesh can never be divided.
This is not how the Pharisees understand marriage. To test Jesus, they ask him, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” The answer to this question is, “Yes, it's lawful.” But Jesus wants to know if divorce is right. At his request, the Pharisees repeat Moses' law on divorce – a simple matter of the husband writing a bill of divorce for his wife. Jesus says to this, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.” He then quotes Genesis – “two become one flesh” – and concludes, “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Here we have an uncomfortable truth that does not go away simply b/c we harden our hearts against it. Here we have a reality that does not yield to argument or whining, a reality that does not bend b/c we choose to give it a different name. Moses allowed divorce b/c the hearts of men were hardened against the gifts of marriage, hardened to the possibilities to be found in the “mutual gift of self.” Because they would not understand the indissoluble reality of marriage taught in Scripture, Moses gave them a way out. Our Lord knows that though we often fail, we are able – with his grace – to enter the covenant of marriage and thrive.

With the grace of the sacrament and the support of the Church, any marriage can thrive. Notice I did not say “any marriage can be perfect” or “no marriage will ever have problems.” Any marriage can thrive b/c the foundation of marriage is the divine love of Christ for his Church. What obscures or blocks God's love from helping a marriage thrive? In Moses' day it was probably the fact that the wife was more or less the property of the husband. Or the “wife's failure” to produce a male heir. Or some economic difficulty. In our own day, the obstructions are more subtle but no less destructive. Is the marriage kept barren through the use of artificial contraception? Or worse still, abortion? Does the easy availability of no-fault divorce make every disagreement potentially fatal to the marriage? Somehow, we've convinced ourselves that we can alter the reality of marriage by judicial fiat. When marriage can mean whatever we want it to mean, when does it come to mean nothing at all? With technology and gadgets, how much harder is it to avoid the temptations of adultery and fornication? All of these and others can obscure God's love in a marriage, they can. . .but only if the husband and wife forget that God forms the foundation of their union. Only if they forget that marriage is for the stability of the family and the salvation of their souls.

In rejecting Moses' “get out of marriage free” rule, Jesus isn't setting up an impossible rule or trapping couples in hopelessly unhappy marriages. He is pointing us to the hard, unchangeable reality that sacramental marriage is a sign of his love for his bride the Church, a love that cannot change b/c the Church is his flesh – his flesh and blood joined permanently with ours. The baptized cannot be unbaptized. The confirmed cannot be unconfirmed. The ordained cannot be unordained. And the married cannot be unmarried. This is Good News b/c it means that no matter what comes, Christ is with us. He is always with us.

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